'State of the Air 2016' – Health of More than Half of All Americans at Risk from Air Pollution
(April 20, 2016)
The 2016 "State of the Air" report, released on April 20 by the American Lung Association, finds that despite continued improvement in air quality, 166 million Americans (52.1 percent) are at risk from health effects of unhealthy air. This 17th annual, national air quality report card found that unhealthy air puts more than half of all Americans at risk for premature death and other serious health effects like lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage and developmental and reproductive harm.
Each year, the "State of the Air" report reviews monitoring data on the two most common and harmful types of air pollution – ozone (smog) and particle pollution (soot). The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: through average annual particle pollution levels and short-term spikes in particle pollution. "State of the Air" compiles a "report card" telling how much of each type of pollution is in the air where you live and breathe. Why is this important? Because both ozone and particle pollution can harm your health—even shorten lives.
Dangerous levels of air pollution can harm everyone, even healthy adults. However, those at greatest risk include infants, children, older adults, anyone with lung disease like asthma and COPD, people with heart disease or diabetes, people with low incomes and anyone who works or exercises outdoors. High levels of pollution can cause severe asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes. The World Health Organization has concluded that particle pollution can cause lung cancer, the #1 cancer killer in America.
"State of the Air 2016" gave reason for celebration, but also identified areas of growing concern. While we rank the top ten cities for worst ozone pollution, worst short-term particle pollution and worst year-round particle pollution, this year, only four cities—Burlington-South Burlington, Vt.; Elmira-Corning, N.Y.; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Salinas, Calif.—qualified for the 'cleanest cities' list in the "State of the Air." Of the cities with the dirtiest air, Bakersfield, Calif. ranked the worst in both short-term particle pollution and year-round particle pollution. The Los Angeles-Long Beach area in California continues to experience the worst ozone pollution.
In looking at all the rankings, trends emerge. Nationally, we made the best progress in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution, with 16 cities reaching their lowest levels ever. This success is due to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines. By contrast, seven of the 25 most polluted cities had their highest number of unhealthy short-term particle pollution days on average ever reported. The rise in short-term particle pollution can be attributed to the effects of climate change, showing how changes in drought, wildfires and rainfall, are already affecting public health.
Six cities reported their fewest unhealthy ozone days ever, including Los Angeles, the leader in unhealthy ozone days. Like year-round particle pollution, the decrease in ozone is due to the cleanup of major sources of the emissions that contribute to ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles. However, increased heat from climate change again threatens this progress, because heat is one of the components that contributes to ozone formation.
Want to see how your community ranks, as well as the lists of most-polluted and least-polluted U.S. cities? Visit "State of the Air" and find out!
This year's report shows continued improvement in our air quality. However, the latest medical science warns that air pollution does even more harm to health than was previously known, and at lower levels. Climate change also makes protecting public health more challenging and threatens to reverse important progress we've made.
Because of this, the American Lung Association calls on Congress to protect the Clean Air Act, one of our nation's strongest public health laws and the foundation for the improvements seen in this report. We also call on every state to adopt strong Clean Power Plans to reduce emissions from power plants that worsen climate change and immediately harm health. The Supreme Court has put a temporary hold on EPA's enforcement of the federal Clean Power Plan, but states should not delay efforts to clean up carbon pollution from their power plants. Moving forward, we also urge EPA to adopt commonsense standards to limit dangerous air pollutants from the oil and gas sector such as methane and volatile organic compounds that can worsen our ozone problems as well as contribute to climate change.
Everyone has the right to breathe healthy air. That's why the American Lung Association has been fighting for healthy air since before the Clean Air Act was signed in 1970. Today, we continue to speak up for safeguards that ensure cleaner, healthier air for all Americans.
You can help! Join us in the effort to make sure every breath you take is a healthy one.